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28 Oct 2022
The ocean is the largest ecosystem on Earth and serves as our life support system. According to the Marine Conservation Institute, oceans generate half of the oxygen we breathe and provide at least a sixth of the protein people eat. Oceans also absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere which reduces the impacts of climate change. For these reasons and many more, protecting the diversity and productivity of the world’s oceans is vital for the survival of humankind.
In December 2019, the President of Mozambique officially launched the Environmental Protected Area in the country’s Maputo Province. A significant win for conservation, this declaration provides enhanced protection for one of the world’s richest biodiversity hotspots and includes a substantial increase in the size of the marine area now officially safeguarded by law. Peace Parks Project Manager, Manuel Mutimucuio, who works in Maputo Special Reserve and Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve says, “the new Environmental Protected Area brings various land-use areas under one umbrella which allows the government to ensure that developments and practices are done with the conservation of the country’s natural resources in mind.”
Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve lies within Africa’s first marine peace park, the Ponto do Ouro-Kosi Bay Transfrontier Conservation Area, Africa’s which also includes iSimangaliso Wetland Park in South Africa.
With the declaration of the Environmental Protected Area, the Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve’s ocean protection zone was extended to 18 nautical miles, where in the past it had only been 3 nautical miles. “On the South African side, the protection zone had always been 18 nautical miles, which meant that large commercial fishing trawlers would come very close to the Mozambique coast, just outside the protection zone, and catch large, unsustainable quantities of fish that then also affected South Africa’s marine life. Legally there was nothing we could do about it,” says Manuel. “but now we can work towards stopping these practices that will greatly benefit not only fish species, such as giant trevally that spawn in this region, but also protect sea turtles who often get caught in these very large fishing nets.”.
It is well-known that this 100 km stretch of coastline is where approximately 80% of all the critically endangered leatherback and endangered loggerhead turtles who visit Mozambique’s 2 470 km coastline each year, come to nest.
Sea turtles are vitally important to keeping our beaches and oceans healthy and play many diverse roles in keeping both the ecosystems above and below water balanced. Leatherbacks, for example, feed on jellyfish and keep the population of these marine organisms, that can multiply at an alarming rate, under control. Loggerheads, the largest hard-shelled turtles in the world, are a keystone species on which other animals in the ecosystem depend on for survival. According to National Geographic more than a hundred species of animals, including barnacles, crabs and algae, live on their shells.
Sea turtles have been around for more than 100 million years, but unfortunately, their numbers are rapidly declining due to the impacts of habitat loss and ocean pollution.
To monitor and protect these endangered and critically endangered species, a marine turtle monitoring programme was established and members of the local communities have been trained and employed as seasonal turtle monitors.
Between October and March, teams of marine rangers and turtle monitors patrol the beaches looking for nests and nesting females. “Our primary role is to protect the nesting females, making sure they lay their eggs successfully and make their way back to the ocean safely. We use the opportunity to collect data on them by monitoring how many have been tagged and measure their size. We also keep a record of the number of tracks left on the beach if the female wasn’t sighted,” says Park Warden, Miguel Gonçalves. “After two months, we keep an eye out for hatchlings and when we spot them, we protect them from predators and do our best to ensure they get to the water safely.”
On average, approximately 350 loggerhead and 13 leatherback turtles visit the reserve during the breeding season annually. For the 2019-2020 season monitors recorded more than 1 800 loggerhead and 65 leatherback tracks made by the turtles as they move up and down between water and beach to lay multiple nests each. With the expansion of the protection zone, these ancient sea creatures now have five times more safe ocean to explore off the coast of Mozambique.
At the end of the day, the survival of the human race depends on the very species we so carelessly neglected to protect in the past. We commend the Mozambique government for its dedication in protecting the country’s natural resources and value how new initiates, such as the declaration of the Environmental Protection Area, falls within the Peace Parks vision of creating a future in which humans live in harmony with nature.
Manuel Mutimucuio, Peace Parks Project Manager in Maputo Special and Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine reserves
The government of Mozambique has a formal agreement with Peace Parks Foundation to partner with the country’s National Administration for Conservation Areas in developing Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine and Maputo Special reserves as key components of the Lumbombo Transfrontier Conservation and Resource Area. Ensuring that these critical wilderness spaces grow to healthy, self-sustaining conservation areas will safeguard biodiversity, ensure the availability of crucial natural resources for humans and wildlife, and unlock opportunities for local communities to derive equitable benefits from conservation.